Children in care Entering care
The decision about whether a child should enter care is an important one. The risk of abuse and neglect must be weighed up against the impact of removing a child from their birth family.
Decisions are often delayed as professionals aren't sure what the best option is for the child. Meanwhile, children live in a constant state of uncertainty and remain at risk of abuse and neglect.
Overof children in care are looked after due to abuse and neglect
Explanation: 48,500 children were looked after due to abuse or neglect in England and Wales at 31 March 2017. This was 62% of all children in care in England and Wales.
- England: 44,600 out of 72,670 children were looked after because of abuse or neglect.
Department for Education (DfE) (2017) Table A1. In: Children looked after in England (including adoption) year ending 31 March 2017 (XLSX). London: Department for Education (DfE).
- Wales: 3,900 out of 5,780 children receiving care and support were looked after because of abuse or neglect.
Welsh Government (2017) Children in need by local authority and category of need. Cardiff: StatsWales.
It is not possible to get an exact number for the UK as Scotland and Northern Ireland do not publish reasons for children being in care.
Children can also become looked after because:
- a child is disabled
- a parent is ill or disabled
- there are other family problems
- or because the parents are absent (for example, unaccompanied asylum seekers).
Looked after children also include children who are looked after on a voluntary basis at the request of, or by agreement with, their parents. It also includes children who are looked after for short periods of time, such as respite care.
In Scotland, children in the criminal justice system are also counted as looked after children.
See also Indicator 17 in How safe are our children? 2018.
The rise of children in care
Numbers of children in care in the UK have risen in recent years
Explanation: The total number of children in care in the UK has increased every year since 2010.
The number of looked after children in the UK has increased from 88,128 at 31 March 2010 to 96,505 at 31 March 2017 (31 July in Scotland); an overall increase of 10%.
The number of children entering care has increased every year since 2011. In 2010/11 34,975 children started to be looked after in the UK, in 2016/17 this had increased to 40,075; an overall increase of 15%.
- England: Department for Education (DfE) (2017) Tables A1 and C1. In: Children looked after in England (including adoption) year ending 31 March 2017 (XLSX). London: Department for Education (DfE).
- Northern Ireland: Waugh, I. (2017) Tables 3.1 and 3.11. In: Children's social care statistics for Northern Ireland 2016/17 (XLSX). Belfast: Department of Health.
- Scotland: Scottish Government (2018) Tables 1.1 and 1.5. In: Children's social work statistics 2016/17 (XLSX). Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
- Wales: Welsh Government (2017) Children looked after at 31 March by local authority and placement type. Cardiff: StatsWales.
Welsh Government (2017) Children starting to be looked after during year to 31 March by local authority and need for care. Cardiff: StatsWales.
Making the decision to take a child into care
Children who come in to care are often known to social services for a number of years before action is taken (Masson et al, 2008).
For many children the need to enter care could have been identified at a much earlier stage. For too many children this delay in decision-making prolongs their experiences of abuse and neglect. On entry to care these children experience greater degrees of difficulty and the specialist services they require are less likely to have an impact (Davies and Ward, 2012).
Our book Promoting the wellbeing of children in care identifies ways to better safeguard children on the edge of care:
- improve understanding of how to identify damaging situations
- improve decision-making about when it is in a child's best interests to enter care
- ensure that decisions are well planned and taken in a timely fashion.
- greater use of multi-agency approaches to assessment and support for children and families on the edge of care
- revised training for social workers and other practitioners to ensure an improved understanding of: child development, the identification of risk and protective factors and parental capacity to change
- improvements in undergraduate and post-qualification training to ensure that social workers and other professionals are also able to develop a better understanding of the impact of care and effective interventions
- greater effort to ensure stability for children and young people on the edge of care and following their entry to care.
Care proceedings in the UK
Find out how care proceedings work from pre-proceedings to the granting of a care order in each of the four nations:
What we're doing to help
We're piloting the New Orleans Intervention Model to help professionals make robust and timely decisions. First developed in the USA, this service helps social workers and judges decide whether a child should stay with their birth family or enter care permanently.
Our aim is to help reunite the child with their family where possible, or place them permanently into care if not.
More about children in care
Emotional wellbeing and mental health
Returning home from care
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Davies, C. and Ward, H. (2012) Safeguarding children across services: messages from research. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Masson, J. et al. (2008) Care profiling study (PDF). London: Ministry of Justice.